It was the last delivery of the third over. Jasprit Bumrah pitched it full and angled into Mayank Agarwal, who missed a flick to be struck in front on five. Head down, Agarwal had started his walk back, but to his disbelief and delight, the pacer had over-stepped and it was ruled a no-ball.
The India Blue opener made the India Green bowlers pay for the let-off on the opening day of the Duleep Trophy tie, a virtual semifinal as the winner will qualify for the final against India Red.
In the last match against India Red, the Karnataka batsman was dismissed for 92. Agarwal was in form and needed to go on and get a big score, and he didn’t let the opportunity go waste this time.
With Blue skipper Gautam Gambhir going steady at the other end --- he missed out on a deserved century after being run out for 90 --- Agarwal batted fluently to reach his second first-class century (161 -- 218 balls, 21x4, 1x6).
It was a repeat of the previous game as the duo stitched a 212-run partnership to put the team on top. India Blue, after Gambhir had elected to bat, were 336/3 at stumps with Cheteshwar Pujara unbeaten on 63.
Gambhir’s relaxed presence played a role in Agarwal’s success as he constantly encouraged him to keep going. Gambhir played a classical innings by sticking to basics, playing straight and close to his body. Agarwal emulated Gambhir’s approach and scored a big hundred.
“Gautam was again very helpful. He helped me play spin as I twice faltered against spinners and he was there guiding me. He kept saying ‘bat longer and back yourself if you want to play a big shot’. I picked the right ball as well and it helped me,” Agarwal said after the day’s play.
Agarwal was elegant in his shots, but the best part of his innings was his shot selection. He has been guilty of playing too many shots to give away his wicket, but on Sunday, he was patient and defended confidently.
A student of Rahul Dravid, Agarwal took a leaf out his book to bring up his hundred. The pitch was dry, rough and placid. The bowlers looked ordinary as there was no swing or reverse swing on offer. Against spinners, Agarwal picked the deliveries early to dominate. One of his cover drives off India discard Pragyan Ojha showed how he was winning the mind game, urging the left-arm spinner to bowl fuller.
Consistency had been a problem for Agarwal, who was dropped from the Karnataka Ranji team last year. He had also failed to fire in the 2016 IPL and in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. But he scored two hundreds and a fifty against touring ‘A’ sides of Australia and South Africa last year. Dravid said he saw a change in his attitude. “That (axing) hurt him and he came back stronger,” he said.
Pujara had no problems, as he added 103 runs for the second wicket with Agarwal. But just when Agarwal looked set for a double, he threw away his wicket. Having collected successive boundaries through the pull shot, he went for a third, only to be caught at deep square-leg off pacer Ashok Dinda.
Brief scores: India Blue 336/3 in 90 overs (M Agarwal 161, G Gambhir 90, C Pujara 63 batting) v India Green.